03 Jul 2003 Project 21 Press Release: Black Group Calls on Jesse Jackson to Put Money Where is Mouth Is and Sponsor a Black NASCAR Driver: Jackson Received a Quarter-Million in NASCAR Donations by Claiming Blacks are Excluded from Stock Car Racing – June 2003
Activists with the African-American leadership network Project 21 are demanding that Jesse Jackson support a promising black driver who currently lacks the financial sponsorship needed to advance in the sport.
Jackson has publicly complained that black drivers have been excluded from NASCAR. In 1999, according to the National Legal and Policy Center, Jackson told a conference attended by NASCAR’s then-CEO “The fact of the matter is there is frustration because of exclusion. We were qualified to play baseball before 1947. We are qualified to race cars now.”
Since then, Jackson’s organizations have received a reported $250,000 from NASCAR and NASCAR has pursued minority outreach efforts.
On June 24, a board member of Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition renewed the attack on NASCAR, publicly charging that auto racing remains “the last bastion of white supremacy” in professional sports.
Given this continuing dissatisfaction, Project 21 is now calling on Jesse Jackson to take the money given to his operations by NASCAR and use it to directly support an up-and-coming black driver — a driver, for example, such as Herbie Bagwell, Jr.
Bagwell, who has raced since 1988, was recently offered a race team for the upcoming Busch North Series after posting good testing times at the New Hampshire International Speedway. The sum that NASCAR gave Jackson, approximately $250,000, could essentially finance a driver like Bagwell throughout the six-race series.
Bagwell told the racing web site catchfence.com that he has not been contacted by any of Jackson’s groups, but he has been contacted by NASCAR and encouraged to compete. Speaking on his race and racing, Bagwell told catchfence.com that he shrugs off people’s pessimism: “I’m passionate about auto racing. So those who want to deter me from this goal had their words fall of deaf ears.”
“As a devoted fan of NASCAR, I am troubled by Jesse Jackson’s latest exploits,” says Project 21 member Reginald Jones. “I never once have paused to consider the racial make-up of the drivers or other fans. Like white fans of the NBA, racial proportions are irrelevant to me. NASCAR is a juicy target because of its southern heritage and vast financial resources. Fans should be outraged by NASCAR’s cowardice in the face of Jackson’s latest hustle. People like me who have supported the sport do not appreciate our money going to him.”
Jackson’s organizations have acknowledged that sponsorship of drivers is the key issue. As Project 21 member Deroy Murdock wrote in a May column for National Review Online, Charles S. Farrell, director of Jackson’s Manhattan-based Rainbow Sports, has said: “No one has physically come up and said, ‘You’re black. You cannot race. But the lack of sponsorship is tantamount to saying, ‘No, you cannot race in NASCAR.'”
Project 21 director David Almasi agrees with the diagnosis but wonders why Jackson won’t use the money his organization received from NASCAR to fix the problem. “What Bagwell and other black drivers need is sponsorship money. That’s not a civil rights issue. Jesse Jackson has been given the resources to help these drivers get to the track. When they start driving and winning, the sport will integrate faster than it already is now. Herbie Bagwell is not the only black racer out there, but he has the ambition to be a future champion.”
NASCAR’s gifts to Jackson have been a matter of national controversy since the Virginia-based National Legal and Policy Center publicly called upon NASCAR to sever its financial support for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH organization several months ago.
Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x106 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html.